Of talking donkeys and resurrections
Updated: Feb 25, 2021
In December 1971, Juliane Koepcke was aboard a commercial flight over Peru on her way to join her family at Panguana research station. Mid flight, they ran into a severe thunderstorm. The plane was struck by lightning and broke up in mid-air, 3.2 kilometres above the ground. Koepcke, still strapped into her seat, plummeted to the ground. If you were to ask anyone to guess the outcome, doubtless they would say that she should have died instantly- after all, a fall from just 1% of this height (32 metres) would usually be fatal. Incredibly, and against all the odds, she survived with a broken collarbone and some cuts and bruises. We will take up her story again shortly.
One very common reason for rejecting Christianity is a refusal to accept the many fantastic accounts of miracles and supernatural events that are found throughout the Bible. From incredible healings to talking donkeys, resurrections from the dead, men walking on water, a talking burning bush, a man who survived being swallowed by a giant fish.... the list goes on and on. In a way, I can sympathise with this argument- it's incredible to think that these are real events and not tales plucked from fanciful legends. Indeed, I think it's important for Christians to never lose sight of just how staggering it is that these things could have possibly happened.
Accounts of miracles are an easy target for anyone trying to attack or ridicule the bible.... to many people, it is unthinkable that anyone with a shred of education or common sense would accept miracles as a reality. The questions and objections are sometimes reasonable ("You don't actually believe the story of Jonah/the parting of the red sea/ the burning bush/ the resurrection do you?"), and they are sometimes a little more hostile. But however the questions or objections are framed, they are always based on the same assumption- namely, that there are certain laws of nature that exist, and it is impossible for these laws to be broken.
A miracle, by definition, is an event that overcomes or defies natural laws or scientific explanation. If it is true (as many people believe) that these laws of nature are completely unbreakable, then miracles such as those found in the bible would indeed be impossible. So our question then becomes- can these laws be broken?
Let's return to Juliane Koepcke, who fell two miles out of the sky, strapped to her seat with no parachute, and walked away with the kinds of injuries you'd get falling off a step ladder. A number of theories have been proposed as to how she survived the fall (including the possibility of thick foliage absorbing some of the impact, updrafts slowing her descent and the possibility that the seat she was strapped to absorbed much of the impact). We will never know for sure. But what everyone acknowledges is that there must have been some additonal factors or extraordinary circumstances involved that allowed her to survive. Nobody would deny that she only survived because some additional factor had changed the expected outcome.
The physical laws we see all around us, the uniform workings of the universe, are something that no Christian denies. We believe that God has created and sustains an orderly and predicatable universe that makes it possible to understand the world, which makes science possible. Under normal circumstances, anyone who stepped out of a boat in the middle of a lake would sink instantly. Under normal circumstances, we would not expect a donkey to speak to us. Under normal circumstances, we would expect a dead man to remain dead. The atheist who attacks the miracle claims of Christianity has to assume that 'normal circumstances' are the only possible circumstances. However, there is no reason this HAS TO be the case.
Starting with miracles, then extending this to a disbelief in God or the trustworthiness of the Bible, is in effect a bottom up approach that ignores the most important factor. It focuses on one feature of the Bible to the detriment of everything else, like a man at the Grand Canyon who just visits the gift shop then walks away wondering what all the fuss was about. Because the bible is not just about miracles- rather it is about an all powerful God who at times interacts with His creation in remarkable ways. Of course there are things that are impossible under normal circumstances, but if God intervenes in the normal running of the universe for His own purposes then who are we to say what could or could not be done?
We believe in miracle and accept the possibility that they happened precisely because we believe in the existence of an all powerful Creator. Surely, if there exists a being that is capable of such a breathtaking display of power, He would be more than capable of over-ruling the physical laws of the Universe.... indeed, He is Himself responsible for these laws, and it is by His power that everything is sustained. Under the influence of someone so powerful, there is no physical law or boundary that cannot be overcome.